Friday, February 4, 2011

The REAL Thing

       The film “Slumdog Millionaire” released in 2008 is premised on the story of a teen that grew up in the slums of Mumbai, India and has the chance to become a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” (IMDb, 2010). The Song ‘Jai Ho’, which means ‘to be victorious’ was created for the 2008 film and is presented in the film at the end, accompanied by a choreographed dance number.  Although the song ‘Jai Ho’ was created for the film “Slumdog Millionaire” it has not only received a plethora of international attention due to the broad international reach the film has made, but also, there are a myriad of reproductions of the song and dance number worldwide. In this blog addition, influenced by the theoretical arguments of Walter Benjamin and Arjun Appadurai, I will examine the Pussycat Dolls rendition of the ‘Jai Ho’ song and dance as well as the original rendition in the film, to address the two versions’ social and cultural significance.  
     The film’s ‘Jai Ho’ song and dance number includes a bollywood inspired dance sequence.  Stemming from the presentation of this film however, are a myriad of other reproduced, altered and inspired renditions of the ‘Jai Ho’ theme song that have surfaced in the media. The Pussycat Dolls version of the ‘Jai Ho’ song and dance found on YouTube for example, indeed encapsulates some basic elements of an Indian cultural expression. However, the video clearly appears to have been taken out of traditional Indian context – in which the original appears to be attempting to more or less reflect – as most of the Pussycat Dolls video is presented and structured in a very ‘hollywood-ized’ costume-style manner.  Although the Pussycat Dolls rendition does maintain a very similar tune to the original, in this version the main lyrics are ‘you are my destiny,’ different than the originals’ meaning. Further, much of the Pussycat Dolls rendition is premised on an overexposure and focus on the sensuality and sexuality of the four principal, female members of the musical group, focusing in on close up shots of their bodies.  Furthermore, the setting of the original is in a train station which is also the setting presented in the Pussycat Dolls version, however in the latter video, at the train station setting there appears to be a market also, selling all types of goods, showing the elaboration and addition to the original’s setting. Also, in the latter video the back up dancers are largely American, whereas in the original the dancers appear to reflect and more so display the Indian cultural nature as the dancers in the original version are predominantly Indian. Thus, the two videos are quite distinct from each other in presentation, while still sharing a loosely related theme.  
     The two videos can also lend themselves to reifying and serving as examples in the theoretical arguments of both Walter Benjamin and Arjun Appadurai. Benjamin would argue that there is a threat to the authenticity of the original from reproductions. Through reproductions such as that of the Pussycats Dolls version of ‘Jai Ho’, the authority or ‘aura’ of the original is perhaps lost and thus detached from tradition (Benjamin, 2005: 3). Thus, through the medium of the YouTube video, the aura and detachment from tradition – and thus the cultural significance that the original presents and is premised on – occurs.  As a result, the reproduction becomes a social, reproduced product that is no longer authentic and traditional, as the “social bases of the contemporary decay of the aura” (Benjamin, 2005; 3) has occurred. Further, perhaps the reproduction, the Pussycat Dolls rendition, is reflective of the “desire of contemporary masses to bring things ‘closer’, spatially and humanly” (Benjamin, 2005: 3), a far stretch from the ‘aura’ and thus cultural significance and tradition of the original. Therefore, although the two videos appear to share a loosely related theme, the ‘aura,’ tradition and cultural significance of the original is lacking in reproductions. 
      The social and cultural significance of two videos can also be critiqued based on the theoretical arguments of Arjun Appadurai. Appadurai argues that the landscapes of group identity is no longer tightly territorialized, spatially bounded, historically un-self conscious, or culturally homogenous” (Appadurai, 1996: 48). Deterritorilization such as reflected by the adoption of the internet which allows creation and proliferation of a myriad of reproductions such as that of the “Slumdog Millionaire” ‘Jai Ho’ dance reflect deterriterlizations emphasis on  “transcend[ing] specific territorial boundaries and identities” (Appadurai, 1996: 49), thus “loosening the holds between people, wealth, and territories fundamentally alter[ing] the basis of cultural reproduction” (Appadurai, 1996: 49). As a result, varied cultures and reflections of cultures get proliferated (ie. the original ‘Jai Ho’ video’s cultural elements) and thus more people in varied parts of the world can imagine lives they were not cognizant of before— as perhaps exemplified by the Pussycat Dolls desire to create their own ‘version’ of  ‘Jai Ho,’ (Appadurai, 1996: 53). As a result, Appurandi argues that the link between the imagination and social life is deterritorilized and global, as social life no longer has a finite set of possible lives (Appadurai, 1996: 55). The “power of the imagination in the fabrication of social lives is inescapably tied up with image, ideas and opportunities that come from elsewhere often moved around by the vehicles of mass media” (Appadurai, 1996: 54) such as YouTube videos on the internet. The internet – and the myriad of varied cultural content on the ‘net’ – is thus an influential medium in proliferating and intensifying Appuranduiai’s central argument asserting that we have an infinite number of imagined lives and that our lives are increasingly global.

1.     A.R, Rahman
2009 Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny).
     , accessed January 30, 2011.
2.   Appadurai, Arjun                                                                                                                                                    1996 Global Ethnoscapes Notes and Queries for a Transnational Anthropology.                                                In Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Pp.48-65.                                                Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
3. Benjamin, Walter  
         1936 The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility. In Walter Benjamin: Selected           Writings,Volume 3: 1935-1938. Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press.
4. LegoMontageFilms  

      2011 Slumdog Millionaire- Official Jai Ho Music Video.                                                                           , accessed January 30, 2011.

5. IMDb  

     2008 Slumdog Millionaire.                                                                                                                            , accessed January 30, 2011.


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